For as long as humans have been around, there have been people gullible enough to believe anything, and others who are willing to take advantage of that. And while modern con artists tend to focus on fraud of some kind, their predecessors sometimes leaned heavily into a different world altogether. A world where anything was possible, and an understanding of what made people tick included understanding what made them feel fear: the world of folklore.
The game’s afoot in the latest episode of the Lore podcast, as host Aaron Mahnke travels the crossroads of con artistry and folklore. The bulk of the narrative is devoted to the story of Joseph Brown, a savvy, superstition-exploiting scammer in early 19th Century England who could have inspired countless Scooby-Doo villains. Mahnke also details Brown’s orchestration of schemes involving the practices of porch watching and fortune telling, but the tale steadily veers away from the folkloric into base criminality and legal-system machination. Matters pick up again in the closing segment, concerning the so-called “Yorkshire Witch” Mary Bateman, an opportunistic thief and fraud whose hoaxes included “The Prophet Hen of Leeds” (wait until you get a load of what this allegedly magic chicken lays). Mary’s eventual execution brings the narrative full circle, and ties the episode together nicely. While relatively light on folklore, “Confidence” is a bold foray into the sordid world of dark crime.